Cyber Identity: Our Alter-Ego?

Cyber Identity: Our Alter-Ego?

Ana-Cristina Ionescu (Chamber of Commerce and Industry of Romania (CCIR), Romania)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-4666-2211-1.ch011
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The realities of our world are imperatively legitimated by the complex relationship between media, technology, and society. Whether we deal with old or new Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs), the content of the message delivered by the media assumes a fundamental role. The adherence of a large number of individuals to a common idea facilitates the formation of media-enabled personalities and communities within the virtual space. The emergence of Web 2.0 solves the tension from the ‘90s, when the public opinion decomposed into an amalgam of informal opinions of private individuals not entirely convinced by the formal ones, issued by publicistically effective but one-way communication media. While today the Internet provides the most inclusive forum of public deliberation, where communication is negotiated between cyber-women and cyber-men with equal rights, healed of the social diseases of the outer world, an important gap in our knowledge is whether Web 2.0 reflects our existing reality or whether it constructs a new environment, one that is devoid of the old biases. I would like to fill this gap in information, by exploring whether virtual communities represent a continuation, by technical means, of the pre-existing, face-to-face, geographic, stereotyped interactions, or whether they enabled the establishment of substantially different structures with their own intrinsic features and dynamics, where women have access to and control information.
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Women’s access to ICTs depends on class, ethnicity, caste, race, or age, which interact with gender. Their empowerment varies depending on how gender relations as a cultural process are being negotiated and contested, in relation to the technology environment. Differences between men and women have to do more with our own implicit gender stereotypes and less with neurological differences, as thoughts and attitudes often disagree with consciously held beliefs (Fine, 2010).

Yet, once women are on-line, gender differences are minimized. Access to information and the use of technologies can significantly contribute to reducing poverty, increasing productivity, and stimulating the economic transformation of women: better jobs and better living conditions (Fredriksson, 2011). Via web 2.0, women build strong networks to combat social exclusion and the stereotypes of the outer male-dominated world. While e-commerce supports women entrepreneurs to enter the global markets through the Internet, health educators use TV, radio, and the Internet to communicate information related to women’s sexual and reproductive health. Moreover, topics like gender that even today are considered taboo in some parts of the world are tackled on-line in forums created by women. Communication through e-mail and online newsletters has been of major importance, starting with mid-nineties, to raise awareness on women’s rights both in the real and the virtual world.

The belief according to which computer mediated communication (CMC) is nothing but a reflection of the outer social reality, is valid nowadays just for third world countries not connected to the Internet, where technologies have been historically a male preserve and women lack access to basic communication means.

To set the background on the theme of this chapter, a thorough literature review (with specific focus on the research theme) on the relation between media and reality, ICTs and their social implications, cyberspace, virtual identities and gender is provided.

Media and the Construction of Reality

People like us, who believe in physics, know that the distinction between past, present, and future is only a stubbornly persistent illusion - Albert Einstein

Old or new, the importance of the media in the modern world is indisputable. In some communities, the media have largely replaced traditional institutions, like the Church or the Trade Unions, as the primary source of understanding of the world (Talbot, 2007). We hear very often the assertion “media constructs reality”, but what is the difference between real life and virtual realm?

Key Terms in this Chapter

Cyberspace: A global network which reunites IT infrastructures, telecommunications networks and computer processing systems to facilitate individuals a complete social cyber experience characterized by interactivity, ideas exchange and sharing information.

Gender Stereotypes: Represent over-simple generalizations of the gender attributes, differences, and roles of women and men, which seldom reveal accurate information. When individuals express gender assumptions by default to others regardless of evidence to the contrary, they are perpetuating gender stereotyping. The most common female stereotypic role is that of a loving wife and mother, while the male one projects the husband as the financial provider of the family. These kinds of stereotypes are dangerous as they can negatively affect personal and professional growth.

Gender Equality: Means equal valuing of the roles of women and men within societies. By reducing stereotypes, women and men can equally participate in and benefit the economic, social, cultural and political life.

Web 2.0: Associated with web applications - social networking platforms, blogs, wikis or video sharing sites - that facilitate interactive information sharing, interoperability, user-focused infrastructure and networking tools on the World Wide Web. These developments contributed essentially to changing the way women are perceived by the societies traditionally as web 2.0, unlike real life, enabled them to interact in a social media dialogue as creators of content and hence controllers of information within the virtual communities.

Digital Divide: Describes the inequities between individuals from different parts of the world with respect to their access and use of Information and Communications Technologies (ICTs).The digital divide regards both the disparity in physical access to technologies and the resources, skills and training necessary to generate content on-line. The ICT sector is challenged today to focus not only on technological advances but on enhancing greater access to technologies for disadvantaged populations. The failure to balance hardware availability and Internet access inequities will deepen the already-existing economic gap between individuals around the world.

Virtual Communities: Aim to reflect the cycle of a face-to-face society by enhancing people with similar interests to converge and unite across large distances through on-line means of interaction like: email, chat and public forms of communications like discussion forums, newsgroups or networking platforms. On-line communities can overcome time, space, class, age and sex to create a society and, focused on social experiences, individuals can experience other cultures and environments, besides of those where they physically live in.

Information and Communications Technologies (ICTs): Refer to all communication devices and applications utilized for producing and transmitting information. The ICT sector comprises: radio, television, cellular phones, computer and network hardware and software, satellite systems and the corresponding services and applications. Today, ICTs - especially Web 2.0 - are understood as a time -sharing function that would not only enhance many-to-many communication but also permit users to really benefit from the medium, to migrate from a mere sender-receiver model of communication towards one of interaction.

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